How to Die by Jo Randerson: An extract from The Journal of Urgent Writing 2017


How to Die: Thoughts on life and death

As a child, I was fixated on images of the remains of inhabitants at Pompeii. Their final moments as the heat and volcanic ash overpowered them.

I remember seeing the body-casts of mother and child, frozen in their last minutes together. This image affected me deeply. It horrified me, but I knew that I had to keep looking at it.

As I grew older, stories of death continued to fascinate me; I especially liked to read about disasters. One of my favourite library books was a historical tome, called something like The Top 20 World Disasters.

I would dwell on stories of the Church of the Company fire in Chile, the Tenerife airport disaster in 1977, the destruction of the Hindenburg, asking myself what I might do in those situations.

Later in life, contemporary tragedies would haunt me. The Russian sailors who died in the Kursk. The Lonergans, tragically left out at sea on a scuba trip at the Great Barrier Reef. The inhabitants of the Chinese village Lajia, in Qinghai Province, who perished in earthquakes and flash flooding and whose remains were not found for several thousand years.

These kinds of fixation may seem morbid, unhealthy. But although we might feel that it is negative to think about death, some spiritual practices suggest meditating on one's own demise, or the demise of a loved one, to bring ourselves into the present.

One belief is that near-death experiences make us cleave more fiercely to what we value in life. Death can make us reflect on what is important, perhaps reconsider how we choose to spend our time.

My father, who is a priest, counts funerals as one of the most important parts of his ministry. Funerals are times when people question their own choices and behaviours. This final goodbye can bring renewed purpose and focus to our lives —it can improve the quality of our relationships.

People are often more loving and sensitive at times of death — we tend to care more tenderly when we are reminded of our vulnerability.

Read the full extract at here.